“Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness…” (Nehemiah 12:27).
Have you ever encountered someone who once sought God’s intervention in the midst of a desperate situation but later returned to living as if God did not exist once that crisis was resolved?
Unlike those who choose to seek God only on an “as-needed” basis, Nehemiah was someone who remained close to God throughout the trials and difficulties he encountered and continued to do so thereafter. Much like the man who returned to thank Jesus for His mercy when a group of others neglected to do so (Luke 17:11-19), Nehemiah will go on to help lead a celebration of thanksgiving to God following the completion of the work to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall here in chapter twelve.
In reading through the account of this triumphal celebration, it may be easy to forget the challenges that God enabled Nehemiah to overcome on the way to completing this work. For example, you may recall that Nehemiah went on a reconnaissance mission following his arrival in Jerusalem only to find that the damage to Jerusalem’s perimeter wall was so great that he couldn’t complete his entire survey.
Despite that severe damage assessment, Nehemiah demonstrated an attitude of confident assurance: “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (Nehemiah 2:20). In doing so, Nehemiah expressed his dependence upon God to complete the work he had been called to do.
Unfortunately, opposition to that work began to emerge almost from the moment of inception: “…when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. ‘What is this you are doing?’ they asked. ‘Are you rebelling against the king?'” (Nehemiah 2:19).
So this undertaking was met with an expression of mockery, ridicule, and a thinly veiled accusation of rebellion. But these were not the only difficulties that Nehemiah encountered, for as the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall moved forward, the opponents of that work increased their level of hostility: “…when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it” (Nehemiah 4:7-8).
We’ll look back on Nehemiah’s response to those challenges next.
“When the city wall was dedicated, Levites from everywhere in Judah were invited to join in the celebration with songs of praise…” (Nehemiah 12:27 CEV).
In addition to the work required to oversee the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s perimeter wall, Nehemiah also had to deal with a conspiracy to attack the laborers who were engaged in completing this project according to Nehemiah 4:7-8, 11).
These opponents were prevented from launching an outright assault on this work for Nehemiah and those who were laboring together with him held the legal right to engage in these rebuilding efforts. Nevertheless, a few terrorist-style attacks might successfully intimate those who were striving to complete the work and prevent it from moving forward. This represented a dangerous situation for there was a very real possibility that those who had volunteered to assist in these rebuilding efforts might actually die for their commitment to this work.
But Nehemiah stepped up to respond to this potential danger: “…we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (Nehemiah 4:9 NIV). So once again, God enabled Nehemiah and his band of volunteers (a group that included religious authorities, municipal leaders, jewelers, merchants, and sales representatives) (1) to withstand this potential challenge.
Yet despite these efforts, Nehemiah continued to face strong opposition to this God-ordained project. You see, Nehemiah chapter six opens by telling us, “Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.’ But they thought to do me harm” (Nehemiah 6:1-2).
This offer might have been presented to Nehemiah as an opportunity to work out a reconciliation plan or a chance to talk things over and resolve any differences that may have existed between those who were opposed to this work and those who were engaged in it. However, God gave Nehemiah the ability to discern that he was walking into a trap- so he sent messengers with a reply that said, “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3 NIV).
Unfortunately, the following verses reveal that these opponents were not the type to give up easily.
(1) See commentary on Nehemiah 3:32
“And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem…” (Nehemiah 12:28).
As the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall continued, it seems that those who were opposed to this effort came to the realization that their opportunity to block this project was rapidly slipping away. Since Nehemiah had already rejected the opportunity to convene a “peace summit” on four separate occasions in the opening verses of chapter six, a change of strategy was in order if these opponents were to succeed in derailing this rebuilding effort…
“Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations — and Geshem says it is true — that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall.
Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together” (Nehemiah 6:5-7 NIV).
There was clearly a “message behind the message” contained within this unsealed letter to Nehemiah…
“Since you are clearly ‘too busy’ to come and speak with us Nehemiah, then perhaps the following information will be sufficient to gain your attention. There are some disturbing rumors concerning your effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. We’ve heard that you plan to lead a revolt against the government and appoint yourself as the new leader.
In fact, we understand that you have appointed some prophets to serve as spokesmen to announce your new position. Since this information is certain to be reported to the Persian government, we suggest that you make the time to get together with us to discuss these matters.”
Today, we might recognize this tactic as an attempt at “character assassination,” or an effort to undermine Nehemiah’s ability to lead this project by way of a slanderous account or false report. Because of this, we can learn much from Nehemiah’s response whenever we encounter similar situations today: “Our enemies were trying to frighten us and to keep us from our work. But I asked God to give me strength” (Nehemiah 6:9 CEV).
Just as he had repeatedly done throughout the book that bears his name, Nehemiah prayerfully sought God for His assistance in the midst of this difficult situation- and in doing so, he also provides us with a good example to follow today.
“The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem…” (Nehemiah 12:28 NLT)
A look at Nehemiah’s response to the opposition he encountered in rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall tells us that he prayerfully employed wisdom, perception, and discernment to deflect the efforts to divert his attention from the work that God had given him to do. In this respect, an insight quoted earlier by another commentator is something that bears repeating…
“Without discernment, we can think a dangerous invitation from an enemy is really an offer of reconciliation. We can think presumption is faith. We can think our own noble desires are God’s promises… We can think someone is a great guy or a spiritual leader when they are really doing damage to God’s people. Nehemiah, using discernment will not only escape their trap; he won’t even be distracted from his work.” (1)
Unfortunately, Nehemiah was forced to evade a subsequent effort to entrap him by someone who was reputed to be a prophet but was actually engaged in an attempt to incriminate him under the pretense of spirituality. But God rescued Nehemiah once again by enabling him to accurately separate perception from reality.
You see, Nehemiah 6:12-13 tells us, “I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me” (NIV). So in addition to the other challenges he faced, Nehemiah also had to deal with someone who had been hired to use his religious influence to discredit him.
While these brief episodes do not cover every difficulty Nehemiah faced, they remind us that God continually protected Nehemiah and enabled him to successfully complete this work.
So now that the Jerusalem rebuilding project had been successfully completed, we might be under the impression that there that was nothing further left to do. However, Nehemiah also understood that one thing still remained following the completion of this work- an expression of thanksgiving and appreciation to God for all He had done on their behalf.
Remember that Nehemiah began with an attempt to survey Jerusalem’s perimeter wall but found that the damage was so extensive that he could not complete the entire inspection. Here now in chapter twelve, Nehemiah will go on to finish that tour around Jerusalem’s newly refurbished wall in an expression of thanksgiving to the God who enabled him to complete the work.
(1) Guzik, Dave Nehemiah 6 – The Walls Completed http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/1606.htm
“Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra” (Nehemiah 12:1 and following).
Nehemiah chapter twelve opens with a remembrance of the priests and other spiritual leaders who had returned to Jerusalem in the decades prior to the rebuilding of the city’s perimeter wall. For instance, verses one to seven provides us with a selective list of twenty-two priests who had returned to Jerusalem around 537 B.C. along with two other leaders named Zerubbabel and Jeshua. The following four verses then go on to list some additional Levitical leaders and priests by name.
This list of individuals (along with those who follow) is similar but not identical to other such lists found in Nehemiah 7:39-47 and Ezra 2:36-39. While the explanation for these differences is uncertain, commentators speculate that certain names may have been omitted in the process of copying the book of Nehemiah (1) or that the lineage of certain families ceased to continue for some reason. (2)
In any event, its clear that Nehemiah made an effort to recognize those who were a part of God’s plan to restore the city of Jerusalem in the period following the Babylonian exile. While Nehemiah might have chosen to emphasize his own accomplishments, he opted instead to acknowledge these pioneers and afford them with a position of honor and respect. So rather than choosing to focus upon himself, it seems that Nehemiah understood that he simply had a role in the fulfillment of God’s plan just as these earlier leaders did, and just as God’s people continue to do today as well.
Nehemiah 12:4 then goes on to mention a man named Abijah. Abijah’s place in this historical record is significant because he was someone who would go on to become an ancestor of none other than John the Baptist according to Luke 1:5.
The roster of Levitical leaders found in verses eight and nine also carries some significance. You see, even though the Levites held a secondary position to that of the priests, Nehemiah understood the importance of recognizing their contribution to the work of restoring the city of Jerusalem to a place of prominence.
So once again, it appears that Nehemiah demonstrated an understanding that everyone had a part in the overall success of this rebuilding project. In doing so, his example echoed the message of the Apostle Paul as found in the New Testament book of Romans: “…give each other more honor than you give yourself” (Romans 12:10 ERV).
(1) John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament Nehemiah 12:1-7 pg 693
(2) John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Commentary Nehemiah 12:1-26 pg 550
Following the list of priests and Levitical leaders found in Nehemiah 12:1-11, the following verses begin a section that identifies a number of priestly leaders who served during the period when a man named Joiakim held the position of high priest. One source provides us with some additional background information on the lengthy list of names found within this passage…
“These verses list the heads of the priestly families in the days of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua the high priest (cf. Neh 12:10). Twenty names are listed here, corresponding roughly to the 22 names in Neh 12:1-7. Hattush in Neh 12:2 and Maadiah in Neh 12:5 are not in the list in Neh 12:12-21. Harim (Neh 12:15; cf. Neh 10:5) is spelled Rehum in Neh 12:3. Minjamin in Neh 12:17 is spelled Mijamin in Neh 12:5.” (1)
As we have already noted in looking at some of the other historical records found here within the book of Nehemiah, this passage reminds us that everyone is a “someone” in God’s economy no matter how insignificant or obscure that person may appear to be. This ancient list of those who lived and died more than twenty centuries ago also serves to remind us that our time is limited, a reality that is touched upon in both the Old and New Testaments…
“Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life” (Psalm 39:4 NIV).
“Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4 NIV).
“…you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
The individuals found here in Nehemiah 12:12-21 surely did not anticipate that their names and positions would be recorded within the very Word of God. Yet that is exactly what happened. While these people are largely unknown to us today, their lives and works were all duly noted by God.
If God felt that it was appropriate to recognize the brief lives of such obscure individuals as Zichri, Minjamin, Moadiah, and Piltai (all of whom are mentioned in Nehemiah 12:17), then we may rest assured that He will not forget anyone who labors on His behalf today, no matter how small or inconsequential his or her efforts may seem to be.
(1) John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament Nehemiah 12:12-21 pg 693
“During the reign of Darius the Persian, a record was also kept of the Levites and priests who had been heads of their fathers’ houses in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua” (Nehemiah 12:22 and following).
Nehemiah 12:22 begins a brief, five-verse passage that chronicles the Levitical leaders who served “…during the rule of Darius the Persian king” (ERV). This is not a reference to the Darius who appears prominently within the book of Daniel but to Darius II (who reigned from 423-404 B.C.) or Darius III (336-330 B.C.). This historical marker (along with the reference to “…the Book of the Historical Records [HCSB] found in verse twenty-three) helps to further establish the ancient validity of this account.
An important change of perspective then follows beginning in verse twenty-seven…
“Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps”
Much like the first-person narrative found within the first six chapters of this book, Nehemiah 12:27-13:31 is written from Nehemiah’s direct point of view. This indicates that Nehemiah personally lived out the history that follows throughout the remainder of this book. In fact, it appears that Nehemiah was personally involved in leading these festivities for verse thirty-one goes on to tell us, “…I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs.”
We’re told that these choral expressions of thanksgiving were accompanied by a number of musical instruments, the first of which were the cymbals mentioned in verse twenty-seven. There were two different types of cymbals in use during that period and both were variations of musical instruments that are still in use today.
The first type of cymbal was a kind of castanet or hand cymbal consisting of four small metal plates, two of which were worn on each hand. We would recognize the second (and larger) type of cymbal as something similar in size to that which might be found on a contemporary drum kit.
As is the case today, these larger cymbals were commonly made of brass and were clashed together by hand in a manner similar to their use in a marching band or orchestra today. In addition to their function as musical instruments, it is also believed that these cymbals helped form the ancient equivalent of a “rhythm section” that allowed other musicians to keep time.
“For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres” (Nehemiah 12:27 NLT).
Another musical instrument mentioned in this passage was the harp, one of the major musical instruments played by the Hebrew people in the Old Testament era. However, the type of harp mentioned here in Nehemiah chapter twelve was not like the large modern-day harp that is often played by a musician from a seated position. In fact, the word used for harp in this verse may actually refer to an entire class of stringed musical instruments.
For instance, while there may be many different types of guitars (such as bass, electric, acoustic, pedal steel, mandolin, 12-string, and resonator, among others), each variation is still a member of the same musical instrument family. In a similar manner, there also may have been many different members of the harp family in Nehemiah’s day.
For example, one ancient historian reports that an Old Testament-era harp consisted of an instrument with ten strings that was played with a primitive version of a bow or plectrum. (1) However, it appears that ancient musicians also utilized a smaller type of harp with eight strings that were probably strummed or plucked by hand. As you might expect given the technology of that time, harps were constructed of wood as we’re told in 1st Kings 10:12.
The third instrument mentioned in Nehemiah 12:27 was the lyre. In this instance, a good basic description of an ancient lyre can be found in the following definition…
“A classical lyre has a hollow body or sound-chest (also known as soundbox or resonator)… Extending from this sound-chest are two raised arms, which are sometimes hollow, and are curved both outward and forward. They are connected near the top by a crossbar or yoke. An additional crossbar, fixed to the sound-chest, makes the bridge which transmits the vibrations of the strings.” (2)
While the musical lyre is rarely seen in use today, it is still possible to purchase a modern-day version of this ancient musical instrument from various sources.
So now that the musicians and vocalists were ready, it was time for those who had gathered together to demonstrate their appreciation for all that God had done in enabling them to complete the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall.
(1) A harp (and/or it’s variants) was also known as a “kinnor” or “viol“. See Flavius Josephus, Antiquities Of The Jews, 7.12.3: “The viol was an instrument of ten strings, it was played upon with a bow; the psaltery had twelve musical notes, and was played upon by the fingers.”
“Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall. So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate…
The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall” (Nehemiah 12:30-31, 38).
While it may be natural to focus upon the activities of these choirs, what took place before those groups began is even more important.
You see, we’re told that those who participated in these ceremonies took steps to purify themselves before they began. This idea of purification in the Old Testament era typically involved laundering one’s clothes, bathing, and bringing an appropriate offering to God. In this instance, these leaders also took the additional step of purifying the gates and the wall of the city as well. This likely indicates that they scoured or otherwise cleaned the wall and gate areas prior to the commencement of these ceremonies.
While the manner is which we purify ourselves before God may have changed since the days of Nehemiah, this concept of individual purification is still equally valid today. The means by which we purify ourselves before God today can be found in the words of Romans 10:9 and 1 John 1:9…
“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
So Nehemiah helped orchestrate a great procession of singers and instrumentalists who were separated into two large groups atop Jerusalem’s perimeter wall. Each of these groups walked along opposite sides of the wall until they met together at the portion of the city where the temple stood.
This ceremony must have held great personal significance for Nehemiah and those who participated in the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. You see, there once was a time when those who opposed their efforts said, “If even a fox walked along the top of their wall, it would collapse!” (Nehemiah 4:3 TLB). Now there were two large sets of instrumentalists, two large sets of choirs, and two large sets of municipal and religious leaders upon that very wall who were singing, playing, and offering thanks to God.
“I led the leaders of Judah to the top of the wall and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward along the top of the wall… The second choir giving thanks went northward around the other way to meet them…” (Nehemiah 12:31, 38 NLT).
The act of marching together atop the wall of Jerusalem provided the people of that area with a chance to enjoy the fruit of their labor as well as an opportunity to offer praise and thanksgiving to the God who had enabled them to complete such a monumental task. As Jesus Himself once remarked, “…the laborer is worthy of his wages…” (Luke 10:7 AMP), and for those who participated in the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall, these “wages” resulted in an occasion to thank God for the opportunity to participate in a job well done.
So following their arrival at the temple area, Nehemiah 12:40 tells us that “The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God” (NIV). Nehemiah 12:43 then goes on to say, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”
If you have ever heard the roar of a cheering crowd from outside a stadium or arena, then you may be able to identify with the experience of those who were in the vicinity of the area where this ceremony took place. You see, just as the cheering crowd at a sporting event can often be heard far beyond the stadium itself, the joy and thanksgiving of the people over what God had done for them could also be heard from far away as well.
One contributing factor to this exuberant celebration can be found in the fact that all the members of the Jerusalem community had an opportunity to join together in thanking God for His blessing: “The women and children also participated in the celebration…” (NLT). One source explains the importance of this “family friendly” commemoration in the following manner…
“This moment of great festivity was enjoyed by the entire family. This is important, since the rebuilding and the settling and populating of Jerusalem had involved a commitment by the entire family. Now as a family they could rejoice together in all that God had done for them.” (1)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 905). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.